Friday, May 16, 2014

Los Angeles Oil Spill and the Problem of Leaky Pipelines

On Thursday May 15, a street in Los Angeles was awash with oil due to a ruptured valve at the Atwater Village district pump station. A geyser of crude oil spewed 40 feet into the air and spilled almost 20,000 gallons of oil before it was finally stopped.

The Los Angeles spill is but the latest in a spate of petrochemical accidents that appear to be plaguing the nation with increasing frequency. In the context of the debate over the Keystone XL, the problem of leaking fossil fuel pipelines have garnered national attention.

The Los Angeles spill coated a strip club with oil and petrochemicals leaked into the buildings ventilation system. The fumes from the spill sent at least four people from a nearby medical supply building to hospital and residents over one a half a miles away reported nausea and headaches.

Firefighters erected a sandbag dike that prevented the oil from running into the sewers and seeping into the adjacent Los Angeles River. Cleanup continues as crews are pressure washing the area with a soap solution and mopping what's on the ground with absorbent diapers.

The 130-mile, 110,000 barrel-per-day line 2000 pipeline pipeline runs from the San Joaquin Valley in central California to a storage facility in Long Beach. The Long Beach terminal serves refineries including those run by Phillips 66, Valero Energy Corp and Tesoro Corp. The company that runs the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline LP, is a unit of Plains Pipeline LP. After the spill, shares of Plains All American closed down 0.28 percent at $56.77.

This is but the latest spill in a seemingly endless litany of leaking pipelines. As reported by the NRDC, the US hazardous liquid pipeline system spilled over 5 million gallons in over 400 spills in 2013. Spills are on the increase over the last ten years with an average of one spill per day in the US.

The spill in Los Angeles and countless others like it have implications for the the movement of fossil fuels particularly the Keystone XL which would carry tar sands bitumen. Pipelines moving heavy crude at high temperatures have had significantly higher spill rates than pipelines moving conventional crude regardless of their age. In northern Midwestern states tar sands bitumen spilled 3.6 times as much as the national average between 2010 and 2012.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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